why do water pipes burst in cold weather

Bursting water pipes are a major concern when winter temperatures drop below freezing. But why do frozen pipes burst? Perhaps surprisingly, freezing pipes don t burst because of
expanding in place. Instead, it has to do with pressure inside the pipes. When water freezes, its molecules crystalize into an open hexagonal form, which takes up more space than when the molecules are in their liquid form that is, the expand as they freeze. As the ice expands, it pushes water toward the closed faucet. This causes an immense amount of water pressure to build between the ice blockage and the faucet eventually, the pipe ruptures under the pressure, usually at a spot where there s little or no ice.

The pipe areas upstream of the ice clog aren t typically in danger of bursting because the pressure isn t great enough. In this case, the water isn t blocked, and can always retreat back to its source. Pipes that are the most at risk of bursting are those located outside of building insulation, or those in unheated interior areas, including basements, attics and crawl spaces. Heating or insulating these vulnerable pipes with fiberglass or foam sleeves can help prevent them from bursting.

Additionally, keeping the facet open and letting the water run even at just a trickle will help prevent the water pressure from building to dangerous levels. Follow Joseph Castro on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook Google+. Before the onset of cold weather, protect your pipes from freezing by following these recommendations: Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer s or installer s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful, and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.

Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break. Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas. Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated. Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a pipe sleeve or installing UL-listed heat tape, heat cable, or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes Б even бБ of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing. Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.

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